5 Moves That Will Launch the Arizona Cardinals' Defense into Elite Status
The Arizona Cardinals have made massive improvements on the defensive side of the ball over the past two years.
A horrid defense was masked by a great offense for years, but it finally came crashing down in the 2010 season.
Without Kurt Warner, the Cardinals struggled significantly and their defense was exposed. After finishing at the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories, it was time for change.
A lot of young talent has been brought to the desert over the past few seasons and a once-maligned unit is now back on track.
Arizona has a solid mix of youth and veteran leadership. Its defense is certainly on the rise and is one that surprised a few teams this past year.
This unit can hold its own with some of the best in the NFL and is verging on elite status.
The following slides will breakdown the Cardinals defense heading into 2013. It will also look at a few moves that will launch their defense into elite status.
1. Defensive Line
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One of the biggest strengths for this team is their defensive line play. Both ends––Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell––have Pro Bowl potential.
Despite missing three games with a leg injury in 2012, Campbell notched 63 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He has four years remaining on his contract and will be a huge part of the defense moving forward.
Dockett has made headlines this offseason, engaging in multiple conversations via twitter and other social media outlets.
As for his play itself, the 31-year-old is excited with the new-look coaching staff. He was not a fan of former head coach Ken Whisenhunt, but with a fresh start, expect him to have a bounce-back year.
Former first-round pick Dan Williams finally made his presence felt in 2012. He is a force up the middle and will only get better.
Arizona is lacking in the depth department, though. David Carter is a solid backup to Williams, but the options are thin behind Campbell and Dockett.
The contracts of Nick Eason and Vonnie Holliday have expired, leaving the Cardinals in a bit of a hole.
Expect them to either re-sign one of the two veterans or add depth come free agency.
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Arizona currently has seven linebackers under contract. Of those seven, however, three of them have not started a regular season NFL game.
This team is definitely lacking in the depth department when it comes to linebackers. While releasing Stewart Bradley may have saved money, Daryl Washington, Reggie Walker and Colin Parker are now the only inside linebackers on the roster.
I do not expect the team to re-sign Paris Lenon, either. This leaves free agency and the draft for them to find a suitable replacement.
Not only is depth a concern, but injuries are as well. Sam Acho has not missed a game in his two-year career, but O’Brien Schofield sat out seven games this past season.
Schofield and Acho could very well be the starting outside linebackers for the Cardinals again in 2013. They will need some depth behind these two, though, especially with Schofield’s injury history.
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One half of the Cardinals secondary did quite well in 2012, while the other left something to be desired. Kerry Rhodes was great and Patrick Peterson made it to the Pro Bowl following a breakout year.
Between Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, Arizona has one of the best safety duos in the game. With Peterson emerging as one of the better corners in the game, it will be hard to pass against this defense in 2013.
Similar to the other two spots, this team must look to free agency to add depth. Greg Toler could potentially hit the market and William Gay will return to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The addition of a No. 2 corner is vital for the Cardinals. Their secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the league if they can find someone to play opposite of Peterson.
4. Players to Re-Sign
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While we saw nothing overly spectacular from Nick Eason this past season, he is a man that they should bring back. The 32-year-old would provide quality depth for the Cardinals and allow them to focus on other areas in the draft.
Despite only starting in seven games, Quentin Groves was a game changer for Arizona. He came up big for the team both on defense and special teams. I would be very interested to see what he can do now that he has a year of Cardinal experience under his belt. A pass rusher, like Groves, that can complement Acho and Schofield would be ideal.
In the previous slide I spoke about the need for a No. 2 corner. With that in mind, re-signing Greg Toler is an absolute must. He was slow to return last year following a tough knee injury in 2011. After returning to game speed, however, the man showed us what he is capable of. When healthy, Toler is a solid No. 2 corner. Bringing him back would give the Cards’ secondary a huge boost.
While Rhodes and Wilson are one of the better safety duos in the league, they are not exactly the youngest bucks out there. Rashad Johnson should be re-signed and used in multiple different packages. He is fairly versatile and bringing him back will allow defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to expand his scheme.
5. Players to Target
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By re-signing those four players, you are addressing the depth issue at every position. The only one not discussed was inside linebacker.
The Cardinals should take a different route here and bring in someone new. Ideally that someone would be Larry Grant.
For those of you who follow my writing, you are aware that I am a big advocate of the 49ers backup.
He would be an immediate upgrade over what Arizona has now and can be a solid player if given the opportunity.
Signing Grant and re-signing the four players mentioned in the previous slide would make the draft a lot easier for the Cardinals.
They would still have to add a bit of depth in the late rounds, but these five moves would push them one step closer to elite status.